Forget Balance. Choose Work/Life Flexibility and Prioritization

The value of establishing core priorities

Jeff Bezos recently revealed that he gets eight hours of sleep a night. He tried to get by on just four hours for a while, but the quality of his decision making was impacted. Research supports a connection between sleep and job performance, including a 2019 University of Washington report, "Why Healthy Sleep Is Good for Business." The researchers found sleep deprivation in leaders results in everything from a more hostile leadership style to less success motivating their teams. That is why, to function at my peak, I make getting eight hours of sleep each night a priority. 

Getting eight hours of sleep might not be a key priority in your life; maybe you get by on six hours or less but can't function without your daily run. Establishing core priorities is the key to managing your work and your personal life. 

Don't worry, this won't segue into a work/life balance conversation. My goal is not to convince you to make sure you are spending the same amount of time on your wellness as you do your career. Such balance isn't realistic. Focusing on always equally prioritizing the demands of career and personal life will result in unnecessary stress and a sense of failure when your equilibrium inevitably tips to one side or the other.

But an obsession with your calendar, a flexible framework and a team equally committed to their core priorities lets you meet the most important needs of both your job and your family.

Daily (re)prioritization.

I am obsessed with my calendar. When you work in client services, you have to be fastidious about keeping your calendar meticulous because the work week is rarely predictable. An up-to-date calendar is how you define which priorities can't be rearranged versus those events that can be deprioritized for that day. I learned the hard way that sleep is one of those unwavering priorities for me after spending a few years feeling stressed and sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation impacts my ability to make the many decisions I need to make as a CEO. No matter what other things might disappear from my calendar, my eight hours of sleep does not.

Stay flexible, yet decisive.

Forcing yourself into rigid boxes of time won't work when each day presents unanticipated events and challenges. Be prepared to shuffle your day, but do it thoughtfully. Your key priorities must drive your decision making. This is another reason I prioritize my sleep; if I am well rested, I am less likely to be thrown by curveballs to my calendar. I also recommend blocking off a chunk of time at the end of the week to reflect and plan for the week ahead. This helps you view your output from a longer lens, instead of seeing each individual day as a success or a failure based on what obligations were met and which ones had to be sidelined. 

Help your team prioritize.

Transparency at home and in the office about your priorities helps guide where it makes sense to compromise and where it doesn't. Being transparent with your team also gives them permission to honor their own priorities. Try to pay attention to how your team is allocating their time. Have conversations about scheduling. Ask them, "Do you have too much on your plate? How could we move some things around?" A leader should not function as an enabler of bad habits. 

Our calendars need to be flexible and driven by firm priorities, not panic or guilt. And we all need to learn to recognize when we need to shut down early, get more rest or take PTO. By looking for overall harmony rather than perfect work/life balance, we can succeed at work and home while staying well.

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